Creative Spotlight: Caitlin Farrell on finding joy in journaling and calligraphy

Finding joy in our favourite hobbies


Caitlin Farrell, a first-year English student at Peterhouse, started doing calligraphy largely on a whim. However, after finding unexpected enjoyment in doing it, it’s a hobby she’s continued, and now, many bullet journals, ink pens and rolls of washi tape later, she is still loving it. Caitlin enjoys creating artistic renderings of literary quotes, exploring new techniques from calligraphy accounts on Instagram and just generally doing something that brings a little joy into her life. And you can’t argue with that. 

The Tab Cambridge spoke to Caitlin about the pieces she likes to create, creative enjoyment and, of course, the infinite appeal of aesthetically pleasing washi tape.  

‘[I] thought it would be a fun way to experiment a bit’

Caitlin started doing calligraphy as a fun, easy activity, and something to try out, but it has ended up becoming a real favourite hobby of hers: “Originally, I only tried it out on a whim because I have neat handwriting so I didn’t think it would be too difficult to get started with, and thought it would be a fun way to experiment a bit with it. 

“I didn’t expect to do much more of it, but as I watched online tutorials and experimented with calligraphy in my sketchbook, I found that I really enjoyed it.” 

‘I try to think about what they like or what reminds me of them’

As an English student, Caitlin loves to use calligraphy to showcase her favourite quotes and poems: “I choose the quote or poem I want to present, then think about how I could make a piece which reflects its meaning. […] Once I’ve done this, I sketch out the piece in pencil, then go over it in pen or paint.”

In fact, one of the poems Caitlin has used in the past may look a little familiar for fans of the seminal text that is the AQA GCSE English Lit anthology: “For example, I once did a page in my sketchbook for Percy Shelley’s poem Ozymandias with a background of torn-up maps, because the poem is about travel and history.” 

She also likes to use her calligraphy skills to produce handmade gifts for other people. She often makes birthday and Christmas cards for her family and friends: “I try to think about what they like or what reminds me of them, then include colours or little drawings around the letters which make me think of them. 

“I also consider seasons, especially if I’m making a Christmas card. For a Christmas card I made last year, I wrote ‘Happy Christmas’ in calligraphy in the centre of the card, then drew a wreath of glitter snowflakes around it.”

‘She Walks in Beauty’ by Lord Byron

‘There are huge communities of people posting hand-lettering photos and tutorials’

Instagram is a really source of inspiration for Caitlin’s calligraphy: “I learnt a lot of my calligraphy skills from Instagram. There are huge communities of people posting hand-lettering photos and tutorials, and I still find those accounts really inspiring for trying out new styles of lettering or colour combinations.”

Often the words Caitlin has decided to draw will heavily influence the look of the final piece: “I am also often inspired by the words I render in calligraphy, particularly when they’re from literature, and I like to make my work reflect them as part of the process of turning the words into art.”

‘Using my calligraphy for my planner makes a functional everyday object pretty and pleasing’

She describes her style as “neat and organised”: “I like to plan a piece before I make it, whether it’s an artistic rendering of a quote or a title for a revision sheet, and I love coordinating colours and using complimentary stickers and washi tape to decorate.”

One of Caitlin’s favourite creations was a very impressive undertaking but was also something she really loved doing: “It’s not something that many people see, but my favourite thing I’ve created is my 2021 bullet journal. 

“I make my journal a year in advance (I prefer to do this instead of buying a planner because I can be sure it includes all the things I need!) and this one was created during the 2020 lockdown, when I was quite fed up. 

“I found making the journal, with a title page for each month and lots of coordinating stickers and washi tape, really relaxing, and using my calligraphy for my planner makes a functional everyday object pretty and pleasing.”

Dreading next week’s schedule? Not with this planner you aren’t

‘I really enjoy calligraphy that turns words into literal art’

For Caitlin, doing calligraphy is a really joyful thing: “As an English student I love literature and words, so I really enjoy that calligraphy turns words into literal art, displaying them visually as well as evoking an image through the actual text.” 

She also loves how much she ends up using it in day to day life in revision notes, planning and note-taking: “I also enjoy how useful and functional it is; it’s a form of art you can practise easily with a pen and paper, and it doesn’t take long to improve. It can be included in lots of everyday writing and note-taking and I love using it to make things look pretty.”

This combination of functionality and personal enjoyment and relaxation is a really important part of calligraphy for her: “Most of my calligraphy is for my own use and relaxation. I have a sketchbook full of artistic calligraphy pieces I’ve created using quotations from my favourite books and poems, including painted backgrounds, pressed flowers and collage, but a lot of my calligraphy is also very functional.”

Please can I hang this on my wall, thanks x

‘Art and creativity is such an important way to relax and have fun’

Making time for creative outlets like calligraphy amidst busy everyday life is really important for Caitlin: “Art and creativity is such an important way to relax and have fun, as well as getting to know yourself and your forms of creative expression. 

“It’s a really valuable way to switch off from everyday life for a while and, especially in a world where due to working from home we’re on screens almost all the time, it’s a great way to give your brain a bit of a break.” 

However, in the consumerist modern world, we sometimes forget about this enjoyable, expressive side of creativity and instead, we often see a pressure for people to commercialise their hobbies, to create a small business out of their creative interests. Caitlin talked about this more to The Tab Cambridge: “I have felt this pressure, and I think it’s a real shame that people are expected to make their hobbies into something profitable. 

“I respect people who choose to run small businesses based on their art, and it’s a brilliant way to encourage people to have beautiful original art from independent creators in their homes, but I think it’s sad that people are almost expected to commodify their hobbies.”

She talks about valuing creativity for its own sake: “In the consumerist society we live in, a lot of people only really value creative expression if it’s financially profitable, and I think that’s completely the wrong way to look at it. 

“Art is to be enjoyed both by the creator and their audiences, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with choosing to sell art made as part of a hobby, it’s also perfectly fine to just enjoy it for its own sake and not feel the need to profit from it.”

I wish my handwriting looked like this

‘I plan to keep creating things for my own use, both functional and artistic’

Caitlin is looking forward to continuing with calligraphy into 2021: “I’d love to work with ink and brushes. Most of my work now is either pen (felt-tip, fineliner or glitter gel) and occasionally watercolour, and I’d love to improve my brush control by trying out this more traditional style of calligraphy.”

She’s excited to carry on sharing her work with others: “I plan to keep creating things for my own use, both functional and artistic, but I’d like to share my work with more people in future, so sending more hand-made cards is something I’d really like to do!”

A joyful hobby, personal fulfilment and something to share with others – sounds good to me. 

If you’re a creative from the University of Cambridge and you would like to be featured in the Creative Spotlight column, please email The Tab Cambridge at [email protected]

Featured image credits: Caitlin Farrell 

All image credits to Caitlin Farrell

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